Community Colleges Boom in Recession

At Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury, Md., where the marketing slogan is "Stay Hereā€¦Go Anywhere," enrollment is up 15 percent since last spring, making it the fastest growing community college in the state.

The biggest jump has been in the number of freshman, like Parks, who started out at four- year colleges, according to president Ray Hoy. At $2,600 a year, Wor-Wic is a bargain and 48 percent of all its students are on financial aid.

"For the first time we are seeing many students who made a commitment to a four-year-college, made a deposit and then sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when their parents were losing college savings and their 401(k) plans, they had to reevaluate their personal situations," he told

"They decided to come home and go to their community college, and then, after two years, go on to the college of their choice," said Hoy.

The small college -- with 3,400 students -- is also catering to adults hoping to brush up their resumes or learn new skills sets. They are drawn in record numbers to classes in technology, nursing, radiology and business management. And at non-training programs, classes in truck driving, phlebotomy and geriatric nursing are thriving.

Honing Skills to Keep Job

"People are losing their jobs or retrenching," said Hoy. "A lot of people who have jobs want to make sure they are indispensable to their employers and are taking additional classes. If a company is cutting back, you want the skill set you need to keep you and let someone else go."

Melissa David, 35, was a successful real estate agent in Parkersburg, Md., when the housing and mortgage crisis hit. She had always dreamed of going into medicine, and with a nursing shortage looming, she decided to go back to school.

"Not a day goes by when I don't open a newspaper and see an ad for something in the health-care field," said David, whose 7-year-old son competes with her to "get straight A's."

"With the economy being as it is, it was obvious that the real estate market was slowing down and I had been thinking about going back and [getting] an education," she told "If ever I was going to go back to school, now was a good time to do it."

David, who got a generous amount of financial aid, said the work at Wor-Wic is "really tough" but that it's "an exceptional program." She hopes to go on to get her R.N degree at a four-year college after two years.

College Costs Escalating

But community colleges, like their four-year counterparts, are struggling with a steady increase in the number of college students nationwide and escalating costs.

"It's an exciting time, but we're not getting any more money to pay for new students," said Hoy, who only budgeted for an 8 percent rather than a 15 percent increase in student enrollment. And tuition only covers "40 cents on the dollar."

"Unfortunately, we always grow at the wrong time," said Hoy. "It's good for students, but our funding base is state and local tax dollars. When the economy is bad and tax revenues are down, they need to cut us and hold us back."

To accommodate more students, the college will see bigger classes and use adjunct instructors rather than full-time professors. "What a challenge," he said.

The private colleges, who have traditionally competed with the nation's large public universities, are now paying attention to the community colleges, according to the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

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